Every June event professionals from across the world celebrate exhibitions and advocate for the event industry. This annual day honoring the exhibition industry was started by the International Association for Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) and usually an in-person event is held in Washington DC to bring together event professionals. However, this year, the event will be virtual in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and will be held on June 3rd.
As we recognize this day and look ahead to the future of exhibitions, many are considering how virtual exhibitions will influence and change the landscape of our industry. This year many exhibitions are moving their exhibition halls online and offering a virtual experience to attendees, but how does a virtual experience stack up to the traditional in-person experience? And what are the benefits of “going virtual”?
Virtual vs. In-Person Exhibition
The ability to shake someone’s hand, look them in the eye and communicate in-person have been staples of the exhibition industry and thought by many to be uncomparable. Current events, however, have caused our industry to change its tune and take another look at what can be achieved online to foster connection.
It turns out there are many opportunities to cultivate connections and create engagements online that rival the in-person experience.
Live Sessions, Entertainment and Chat
There are several virtual platforms that go beyond your standard conference call functionality to create engaging, live experiences that capture the energy of a live event. These solutions boast live streaming sessions complete with live chat features so attendees can interact with one another. These platforms even provide the ability to offer live entertainment.
Breakout sessions and interactive polling within sessions also add to the interactive atmosphere and help to keep attendees engaging even from home. By having small groups and polling questions, attendees feel like they are a part of a larger group and discussion; very similar to in-person events.
One of the biggest draws for an in-person event is the organic networking interactions that occur. While it’s not exactly the same as being in-person, solutions like the Virtual Event Center do a great job of offering networking opportunities. Through public networking lounges and closed networking groups, attendees can chat with others and make introductions. Very similar to an online chat room, attendees are free to interact with the group or break off into a private discussion. Event organizers can facilitate topics of discussion and keep the conversation going.
Exhibition Booths and Halls
Just because your event is online doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice your exhibition hall. Sponsors and exhibitors have plenty of opportunities to promote their brand, attract prospects and communicate their offerings in impressive virtual exhibit halls. Exhibition managers have the option of creating multiple halls based on category or industries and attendees can easily click to enter as many booths as they like. Much easier than walking a full hall to get to the next booth on the attendee’s list!
Virtual Exhibition platforms like the Virtual Event Center offer several booth designs to choose from and exhibiting companies can brand their booth as well as upload videos, brochures, and more. Attendees can live chat with exhibitor representatives and exhibitors receive full reporting of everyone who entered the booth with contact information.
What are the benefits of Virtual Exhibits?
When it comes to Virtual Exhibitions, there are many benefits for exhibitors and sponsors looking to reach their intended audience. And, as we said before, just because you are pivoting to virtual for your next exhibition, doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice having a large exhibition hall. Virtual exhibitions provide most of the same benefits as in-person booths along with a few notable advantages.
No Travel Costs or Hassle
Exhibitors and sponsors will save considerable funds by not having to travel or take time away from work to participate in your event. This means they will likely have more money to spend on sponsorships and promotional upgrades that they may have had to invest in travel. They may also register more individuals from their company since they don’t have to send everyone to the event.
Booth Design, Freight and Shipping Savings
Physical booth designs require a lot of time and investment – not to mention the hefty expense to ship booths to in-person exhibitions. When participating in a virtual event, exhibitors will likely be open to pivoting the money they would have spent on physical booths into reserving more virtual booths in multiple categories or sponsoring other outreaches. This is a win for the host organization and the exhibitor!
Let’s face it: in-person exhibition halls can be noisy and filled with interruptions as folks walk by each booth. Virtual exhibitions on the other hand offer a chance at quality communications between attendees and exhibitor professionals. This communication is focused, one-to-one, and in platforms like the Virtual Event Center, all interactions are immediately recorded and reported to the exhibitor after the event. This eliminates the need for note taking on the part of the exhibitor and the need to collect business cards from attendees for follow-up. Exhibitors automatically receive contact information for attendees that visited their booth.
Suddenly, exhibitors no longer need to worry about being at the back of the hall or far away from the lunch buffet tables to get traffic and be seen. With aerial views of the virtual exhibit space, attendees can see all exhibitors at a glance and easily click on as many booths as they like without having to hike it to the back of the hall or deciding the lunch cart looks more attractive than a long walk to the other end of the hall. This increase in visibility is an exhibitor’s dream and something to be celebrated as only available in an online exhibition hall.
We all know that the exhibition industry has a bad rap for producing an enormous amount of waste each year. This comes in the form of discarded packaging, carpeting, furniture and more. And swag! All the swag that is disposed after each event is a real cost to exhibitors and the environment. So “going virtual” is also “going green” in many ways. Be sure to communicate this benefit to exhibitors and attendees alike!
Easy to Participate
Lastly, Virtual Exhibitions are very easy to join and participate in. There is no deadline to book a booth 12 or 6 months out and so exhibition managers have the ability to accept exhibitors right up to the event. This allows you to capture more corporate participants and make it easier than ever before to participate. Creating a virtual booth takes hours not weeks and so corporations will be more open to exhibiting at your online event with short notice than ever before.
Exhibitions are changing in 2020 but not all change is bad. As we’ve explored in this article, there are many benefits to going virtual with your exhibition for both exhibition managers and exhibitors. The key is keeping an open mind and finding the right virtual solution to create an experience that can closely mirrors the value of the in-person one you normally provide.
Interested in learning more about Virtual Event Center?
Transform the way you host event and exhibitions with Virtual Event Center software featuring custom lobbies, networking lounges, exhibit booths, webcast auditoriums, and more. Watch this video to see how it works and request a demo.
About the Author
Vice President, Marketing
Kate has a passion for marketing and events. She regularly speaks at industry events and thought leadership webinars on topics such as attendee engagement, event technology solutions and event management best practices.